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Unit information: Music and Sex in 2020/21

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Unit name Music and Sex
Unit code MUSI20111
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Scheding
Open unit status Not open

Technical knowledge of music (ability to read notation fluently is essential; music A level or Associated board grade 8 or equivalent may be required)



School/department Department of Music
Faculty Faculty of Arts


Charles Darwin posited that mankind started making music for the purpose of sex. While this provocative claim is no doubt a gross exaggeration, music’s relationship with sexuality specifically and gender and the body more widely is nonetheless worthwhile exploring. Indeed, gender and queer studies, for example, today occupy a prominent place amongst musicological debates. In this unit, we will explore music and sex from a range of perspectives. Considering genres ranging from operatic and orchestral to pop music, we will begin by investigating music’s depiction of the erotic, before turning to music and camp-ness. Next, we will consider how musicology has long sidelined the body, before turning our attention to issues of femininity and masculinity. Throughout the course, our thinking will increasingly be informed by key texts in musicological gender and queer studies.

This unit’s aims are:

1) to introduce students to a repertory of varying musical genres embracing both art music and popular styles through a consistent theoretical lens;

2) to hone students’ skills in critical and highly interdisciplinary thinking;

3) to allow students to engage with critical texts about music, sexuality and gender;

4) to develop students’ skills in critical listening;

5) to develop students’ skills in the oral and written presentation of their ideas

Intended learning outcomes

At the end of the unit, a successful student will be able to:

  1. demonstrate a good knowledge of the various forms, contexts, and functions of music in relation to sexuality and gender;
  2. Write critically and perceptively about gender and queer studies in relation to music, and solidly back up own views with independently chosen examples;
  3. show a solid knowledge of the scholarly discourses, methodologies, and terminologies of gender and queer studies;
  4. situate gender discourses of music within their socio-political context.
  5. develop coherent arguments in short written form
  6. present information and coherent critique in verbal form.

Teaching details

Teaching will be delivered through a combination of synchronous and asynchronous sessions, including lectures and self-directed exercises.

Assessment Details

  • Individual workfile (70%). ILO 1 - 5, 7

750-word blog entries for each of any seven weeks of the unit, summarising the key points of the material encountered in pre-class reading and responding to it critically. Students must submit seven posts in order to gain credit for the unit. Towards the end of the unit, students choose five entries to submit without revision as their workfile for a summative mark.

Podcasts, in groups of up to 3 students, 7 mins per student (30%). ILO 1, 3, 4, 6.

Reading and References

  1. Marcia Citron, Gender and the Musical Canon. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
  2. Susan McClary Feminine Endings: Music, Gender, & Sexuality. 2nd. ed. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002.
  3. Susan Sontag, “Notes on ‘Camp’” Again Interpretation (1961)
  4. Suzanne G. Cusick, 'Gender, Musicology, and Feminism', in Nicholas Cook and Mark Everist (eds), Rethinking Music (Oxford, 1999), pp. 471-98
  5. Sydney Hutchinson, ‘Places of the body: Corporeal displacement, misplacement, and replacement in music and dance research.’ In Music and displacement: Diasporas, mobilities, and dislocations, eds. Erik Levi and Florian Scheding. Scarecrow Press, 2010, pp. 155-180.
  6. Paul Robinson: Opera, Sex and Other Vital Matters. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002